Monday, March 4, 2013

Pa. Marcellus Shale and Energy News Updates, Feb. 25- Mar. 4

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SEC Investigating Outgoing Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon
Outgoing Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon is being formally investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for a controversial financial perk that allowed him to personally invest in the company’s oil and gas wells.
The Associated Press reports Chesapeake revealed the investigation Friday in an annual filing with the SEC:
According to the report, the SEC opened an investigation in December, stepping up what had begun as an informal inquiry started in May.
The probe is looking into a deal that McClendon, who founded Chesapeake in 1989, has long had with the company that allows him to invest personally in the oil and gas wells the company drills.
Marcellus shale businesses have ties with regulators

It’s a revolving door between the oil and gas industry and environmental regulators and government officers, a new report says.
The report, released by the Public Accountability Initiative, says several government officers and environmental regulators in Pennsylvania have left their public jobs for careers in the oil and gas industry or vice versa — left their industry jobs for government posts.

“The oil and gas industry frequently argues that fracking means jobs,” the report says. “This appears to be especially true for former regulators and other public officials in Pennsylvania, many of whom have taken lucrative jobs working for the industry.”
The report details the ties between the industry and Pennsylvania’s governors, state officials and environmental regulatory bodies.
 Exasperated by EPA Inaction, Residents near Coal Ash Dumps File Lawsuits
Residents in at least a handful of states are separately suing energy companies for allowing coal waste to pollute streams, lakes and rivers. Coal ash, a euphemism for the solid waste produced by coal-burning power plants, contains arsenic, barium, boron, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium and thallium, which have been linked to cancer, birth defects, digestive illnesses, reproductive conditions, and other health problems.

Many of the plaintiffs have claimed they have no choice but to take legal action against polluters because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has refused to act. In June 2010, EPA presented two proposals for dealing with coal ash; one would classify it as “hazardous” and the other as “non-hazardous.” More than two and a half years later, the agency has yet to make a choice. According to government figures, there are 1,161 coal ash ponds and landfills in the United States.

Crestwood Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2012 Financial and Operating Results and 2013 Outlook
Crestwood Midstream Partners LP (NYSE: CMLP) ("Crestwood" or the "Partnership") reported today its unaudited financial results for the three months and year ended December 31, 2012. Key financial and operating results for 2012 included the following:

  • Repositioned and further diversified the Partnership with substantial future growth visibility from liquids rich basins through the acquisition of approximately $560 million of gathering, processing and compression assets. Including Crestwood Marcellus Midstream LLC ("CMM"), gathering volumes in rich gas areas represented 62% of Crestwood's total gathering volumes in the fourth quarter 2012, compared to 26% in the fourth quarter 2011;
  • Acquired a strong growth position in the rich gas portion of the Marcellus Shale, located in Harrison and Doddridge Counties, West Virginia, through the purchase of midstream assets and a 20 year fixed-fee services contract from Antero Resources Appalachian Corporation ("Antero") in March 2012. Results from Antero in the region vastly exceeded expectations with volumes growing from approximately 200 million cubic feet per day ("MMcf/d"), in early 2012 to approximately 400 MMcf/d at year end 2012. In response to Antero's rapidly expanding activity in the area, Crestwood opened regional operating offices in Clarksburg and Charleston, West Virginia and has increased its Marcellus staff to 20 full time equivalents. By year end 2013, volumes from Crestwood's Marcellus region are expected to surpass its Barnett Shale segment as the largest segment contributor in Crestwood's portfolio and Antero will become Crestwood's largest customer by volume;
  • More Marcellus shale taxes urged

    “The cost of the impact fee to the industry is about one-third of what it would have been in severance taxes as Gov. Rendell proposed,” said Jeff Schmidt, director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. “By spreading it around, everyone gets a little piece of it, but doesn’t go nearly as far as it would if it were a severance tax.”
    Schmidt said that in other states with unconventional drilling, a severence tax of 5 percent of the value of the gas coming out of the wellhead is common. He also said some operators deduct that from royalities paid to residents.
    “While (impact fees) may have brought in around $200 million, estimates were that annual revenues would have exceeded $500 million from a severence tax like there is for other states,” Schmidt said. “The state is letting the drillers off the hook too easily. They are not requiring the drillers to pay their fair share, as the drillers pay in other states.”
    Pennsylvania collected more than $204.2 million in impact fees, 40 percent of which was allocated to the Marcellus Legacy Fund, according to Public Utility Commission data. The state collected $50,000 for each horizontally drilled well and $10,000 for vertical well from natural gas operators.
    Latest Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Gas Well Production Data Shows Natural Gas And Oil Hot Spots
    The latest Marcellus gas production data released by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Oil and Gas Management shows the Marcellus Shale Play is continuing as a major contributor to the Nation's natural gas production. According to the data, as of December 31, 2012, 3,551 wells reported gas production. Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation claimed 9 of the top 15 gas producing wells, with Citris Energy, Chief Energy, and Rice Energy rounding out the top 15 in the 6 month reporting period.
    For Marcellus Drillers, Profits Rise
    Good news seems to keep pouring in for Pennsylvania’s shale drillers. Last week, Cabot Oil and Gas reported record production volumes and earnings for 2012.
    Speaking at a hearing in Philadelphia City Council Wednesday afternoon, David Yoxheimer, from the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, says Marcellus wells produced 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2012, representing 10 percent of the nation’s annual demand. And this afternoon, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on how Range Resources did last year.
    “During the fourth quarter, the Southern Marcellus Shale Division brought 30 horizontal wells online alone, taking advantage of the liquid-rich area of southwest Pennsylvania. An additional eight wells were drilled and cased in the northeast Marcellus during the fourth quarter. The company met its year-end production target of 600 Mmcfe per day. Range Resources had a total of $1.5 billion in revenue for the year, marking an 18 percent increase over 2011.”
    Youngstown gas driller indicted, accused of dumping fracking waste into river
    A federal grand jury returned an indictment against the owner of an oil and gas drilling company on Thursday, charging him with violating the Clean Water Act by dumping more than 20,000 gallons of fracking waste into a river in Youngstown.
    In addition to the charges against Benedict Lupo, 62, of Poland, Ohio, the grand jury also returned Clean Water Act indictments against Lupo’s company, Hardrock Excavating, and an employee of the company, Michael Guesman, 34, of Cortland (Benedict Lupo is the owner of Hardrock Excavating and D&L Energy, which operates numerous fracking wells in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York).
    Special report: Hunting for Pennsylvania’s abandoned gas wells
     Laurie Barr is a hunter. Each year, around November, when the trees in Pennsylvania lose their foliage and the shrubs are nothing but bare sticks, offering no hiding place or cover, the hunting season begins. But Laurie Barr doesn’t carry a rifle or a crossbow; she doesn’t wear camouflage, and no faithful hounds lead the way.

    She doesn’t have to tread silently across the forest floor or keep her voice down because her quarry, if she is lucky enough to find it, is already dead – has been dead for decades. Armed with just a digital camera and a GPS device, Laurie Barr is hunting for what few in Pennsylvania have heard of: orphaned oil and gas wells.
     Fracking Under a Historic Farm
    In its ongoing campaign to win over opponents of hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas industry has succeeded in persuading the owner of a historic Pennsylvania farm to allow gas to be extracted from beneath her property.The owner, Denise Dennis, initially rejected an approach from Cabot Oil and Gas to lease part of her 153-acre farm in gas-rich Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania. But late last year she changed her mind and signed a lease that allows the company to drill horizontally below her land without sinking any wells within its boundaries.
    Pa. DEP considers fracking in Dimock water pollution case Tainted water wells in no-drill zone, but fracking allowed
    Pennsylvania environmental officials are attempting to track the source of explosive levels of methane in two private water wells in a shale gas field in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

    That in itself is not especially newsworthy. The small town in northern Susquehanna County has been the focus of state and national investigations since 2009, when gas linked to nearby drilling by Cabot Oil & Gas seeped into the aquifer and caused a water well to explode. It’s significant, however, that the recent problems emerged in the middle of a 9-square mile area where the DEP banned drilling four years ago due to chronic methane migration problems. It’s also significant that the agency allowed fracking to resume at two nearby gas wells.
    Developers complete 139.4-MW Pennsylvania project
    Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc. (RES Americas) has announce the completion of the 139.4 MW Twin Ridges Wind Farm located in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The project was completed in December of 2012 and is now operational.
    RES Americas served as the balance-of-plant contractor for the project, which was developed and is owned by EverPower. The Twin Ridges Wind Farm consists of 68 2.05 MW REpower MM 92 turbines that will interconnect to PJM through the Potomac Edison affiliate of FirstEnergy Corporation. The project employed hundreds of workers during the construction phase and up to twelve operations and maintenance staff will be employed during operations.
    Op-ed: Leveraging Marcellus shale to pay for pension reform
    Pennsylvania faces unfunded public sector pension obligations of $41 billion. And proposals are proliferating to reform pension parameters in ways which are likely to face protracted legal challenges. 
    Also, we are confronting harsh budgetary trade-offs in which education, infrastructure, health care and public safety are underfunded due to the budgetary pressure from longer term liabilities. Apparently, we will be tied in binding budgetary and legal knots for many years to come. Could it be otherwise? Might someone undo the knot, as in the Gordian legend?
    Perhaps Pennsylvania should start acting as the energy-rich state that it has become. Thanks to the thousands of Marcellus shale wells, and the expected growth of such activities, the state could obtain resource royalty revenue, if a bold policy pivot can be accomplished.
    Other energy-rich states realize sizeable revenue streams from royalty fees on oil and natural gas; our closest competitor, West Virginia, imposes a 6.1% effective royalty rate. Other states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Alaska, all receive significant royalty revenue. Pennsylvania is truly exceptional in its forgoing of such revenue.
    Op-ed:  Carpenters In The Forehead/ It’s A No-Brainer: Maintain The Moratorium On Gas Drilling
    Drilling for natural gas deep within the Marcellus shale fields: a divisive issue now before the Maryland State legislature that is certain to have significant long-range effects on the people and environment of the Appalachian Mountains within our state borders.
    Would it be advisable to support an outright ban on drilling? Should the current moratorium be continued until the Marcellus Shale Commission concludes its mandate? Should the gas companies be given permits to start drilling?
    For the past week or more, I have been doing research on the internet to see if I could come to some definitive conclusion as to whether or not I would be in favor of gas-drilling in western Maryland.
    This is of vital interest to those of us who live in Garrett or Allegany County, as we are the ones who will have to live with the consequences.
    Let’s be honest from the get-go. We all want our energy. We want to drive our cars and trucks, we want our air-conditioners, and we want heat in the bitter winter months. We just don’t want the problems associated with energy production to be in our back yards. .
    As I was reading through reports on various health effects from gas drilling, I found myself thinking of a pertinent analogy as to how research is done in clinical medicine. For example, a study may be designed to evaluate a particular treatment and its outcome on patients. Suppose the benefits in this initial investigation are found to be quite favorable compared to the risks and negative effects. One study, however, doesn’t usually become the standard of care right off the bat. Instead, other studies of a similar nature will be done, and they may, or may not, validate the first findings. Peer review takes place. Consensus panels make recommendations.
    Sometimes what seems like a good idea at the onset proves over time to be not so good, and it falls out of favor. I have seen this occur on many occasions. That’s one reason why doctors don’t necessarily jump on the bandwagon right off the bat when it comes to new treatments. It’s not a bad idea to let the facts and studies play themselves out.
    On the other hand, there are definitely times when initial studies go on to become the standard of care and hold up to the scrutiny of time. What sounded good indeed turns out to be good care.
    Op-ed: The energy potential of fracking
    Say you were a politician, and there was a domestic energy source available that's clean and abundant. One that has the potential to create new jobs and revitalize local economies. Would you do more to encourage it?
    Silly question, you may be thinking. Why wouldn't you do more to encourage it?
    Well, this scenario is more than just hypothetical. I'm talking about natural gas, which is proving in these energy-hungry times to be more of a boon every day. The United States has plenty of it, and thanks to technological advancements in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), it's more accessible than ever.

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